Fashion designer, entrepreneur, and a mother of four, 44-year-old Stella McCartney is also something of a rebel. In an industry where fashion houses make their bottom lines selling leather accessories, Stella McCartney stands alone to eschew centuries-old conventions and design covetable pieces entirely free of leather, fur, and PVC. The ethically driven designer, whose label is backed by luxury group Kering, is ultimately proving that not only can another road be traveled, but she’ll also gladly roll up her pretty sleeves to pave the way.
The English designer grew up traveling the world with her workaholic musician father, Paul, and photographer mother, Linda. At 16, she nourished her growing interest in fashion with an internship with Christian Lacroix, and honed her tailoring skills on Savile Row. In due course, she studied at Central Saint Martins, and at 25 years of age, was appointed creative director of Chloé just two years after graduating in 1997. Karl Lagerfeld, whom she replaced, was miffed by the junior hire and told Women’s Wear Daily, “Chloé should have taken a big name. They did, but in music, not fashion. Let’s hope she’s as gifted as her father.” The hire, spired by Lebanese fashion consultant Mounir Moufarrige, laid way for the rebirth of Chloé as a “cool” brand, and following her departure, McCartney launched her own eponymous label in 2001.
Fast forward to 2015 and in a year rife with talk of designer burnout, McCartney appears only concerned with continuing to organically grow her empire—providing women with ready-to-wear, sportswear (since 2004, McCartney has had an ongoing collaboration with Adidas, lingerie, fragrance, skincare, and children’s wear—and even shares that the hectic pace is “part of what I love and also part of what I am driven by.” It would seem that not only does she share her father’s talent (though her gift for fashion design is wholly her own)—she also shares his unwavering drive.
Ahead of her first professional visit to Dubai on November 19th for a private presentation of her Spring 2016 ready-to-wear collection, McCartney speaks with Caterina Minthe to discuss how she’s building her brand to mirror her ethics and her role as a fashion industry game changer.
CATERINA MINTHE: Unlike designers working at houses like Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, or Balenciaga, you’re building your brand from the ground up. What kind of legacy do you aspire to leave in the luxury landscape?
STELLA MCCARTNEY: I am in fashion and I do not use leather, fur, or PVC. This is unheard of. This is an industry based on selling leather—you go into stores and you are hit by handbags—not by ready-to-wear. I was always told that I’d never have an accessory business because people associate leather with luxury. But I am approaching it in a different way. We are the only luxury house providing this kind of product and proving that it can be done. It’s the most game-changing thing that we’ve done in the industry. This is what drives me, challenges me, and defines the modernity of my brand. It has a massive environmental impact. Massive.
Can you elucidate further on the industry’s current model, which you consider unsustainable?
For me, it’s really about questioning the process, from unnecessary water consumption, to high emissions of greenhouse gases, and polluting chemicals. Fashion has to modernize. It has to challenge its history. More than 50 million animals a year are killed in the name of fashion and that has to stop. It is not ethical, responsible, or sustainable. For me, it is the most exciting challenge.
I can design a dress that people dream of in three months. I can be modern and on trend in that sense, but actually, beyond all of that, there’s a different kind of modernity that’s driving me in partnership with great design. It’s [sustainability] a really interesting layer that’s added into the way that I work and [makes for] a different way of doing things. It’s about the bigger picture, about the future of our world and how we can help impact that.